Under President Trump, the USDA has decided to roll back a rule Obama put into place intended to make organic certification synonymous with animal welfare. The department is now considering doing away with the regulation that required farmers of organic chickens more room and access to sunlight and fresh air. The USDA says that Obama overstepped the bounds of 1990s legislation on what qualifies as “organic” and wants to do away with his rules entirely.
“What’s so upsetting is that there is such a gap between what organic consumers expect and what these factory farms are producing,” said Jesse Laflamme, CEO of free-range egg company Pete and Gerry’s to the Washington Post. That was true enough even with Obama’s provisions, but many in the industry and animal welfare circles fear that Trump’s rollback will, as LaFlamme put it, prove “destructive to the whole organic field.”
Despite what Trump’s USDA says about industry attitudes towards Obama’s rule, organic businesses like Laflamme’s want to stick to Obama’s plan. That’s because there’s such a huge gap between what consumers picture when they see the word “organic” and the current reality. Consumers picture chickens happily scratching the dirt and freely roaming like on small family farms of yore. The largest organic egg producers, however, cram thousands of chickens into dark cramped quarters and are able to meet certification as long as they provide a few “porches” that technically provide chickens with access to fresh air and some light.
The Organic Trade Organization plans to sue the Trump administration to fight the USDA’s retreat. It wants to keep organic farmers, even the biggest, moving toward Obama’s ideal. If the OTO can get this rule to stick for chicken farmers, it sets a precedent that could eventually spill over to other livestock. “The industry is committed to this and totally gets it, for it’s in everybody’s interest to make sure that the consumer gets what they’re looking for,” said the OTO’s executive director Lauren Batcha to NPR.
For the sake of the chickens, hopefully the OTO will prevail.